It is hard to find a better example of food expectations than 50 Days of Adria, the Albert Adria pop up at Hotel Café Royal in London. Albert Adria (Ferran’s younger brother), up until five years ago, was the lesser known Adria Brother, despite the fact he worked with Ferran at El Bulli for 23 years. According to several articles I read, Albert never got the credit he deserved until recently and some phrases stuck to my head: David Chang from NY’s Momofuku Empire said “If Ferran is God, then Albert is Jesus.” And Ferran even said “I’ve always said that Albert has had the great misfortune of being my brother. I sincerely believe he is the best cook I’ve ever known.” I never had the opportunity to eat at El Bulli or try Ferran’s food before, but after the 50 Days of Adria dinner, I am certainly blown away by Albert Adria!
We both counted the days until the dinner and couldn’t have been more excited. The evening started with cocktails at the Oscar Wilde Bar, an absolutely stunning space with lots of gold, reminiscent of Versailles or some palace in France (they even say it has been restored to its authentic Louis XVI detailing—Versailles or the dining room at Café Royal?). As I scrambled to find a pen that worked to take notes and work my camera in the dim lighting, the evening began with the Elote, a corn liquor cocktail with concentrated tonic and dried raspberry, followed by a flurry of nibbles.
What we ate:
The famous Olive-S: I hate olives and it is the one ingredient I usually tell people I don’t eat, but I didn’t alert them of it when they emailed about food restrictions as I had heard of Adria’s famous spherical olives and thought if there was one olive I should give a chance, it would be this one. In this case, they take olives and make a paste and then filter to make a liquid that they then transform into spheres. They vary what they infuse them with, but, since we are in London, here they used Worcestershire Sauce. I wish all olives tasted this good.
Corn meringue: three little corn meringues seated on top of a beautiful corn that was there just for show. Slightly sweet and slightly popcorn tasting.
Tower of snacks: this presentation blew us away as we got a huge tower with the most stunning whimsical snacks in all shades and colours. I struggled to write down everything we were served, but from the top to the bottom (it seems my husband listens to servers more attentively than he listens to me!) we had:
- Nori seaweed with quinoa: savoury, crunchy and yummy.
- Yuzu pistachio: this made me stop talking (Bradley Cooper’s goal in his role as a chef in “Burnt”), as I was shocked and blown away with its texture. Looked like a simple nut, but exploded with liquid in my mouth. Delightful.
- The two above were very savoury and then most of the other ones had some element of sweetness.
- Strawberry, sesame and curry cookie: you could taste every element, the curry being my favourite.
- Blackcurrant meringue with Horseradish cream: we were afraid it would be too sweet, but the Horseradish (they call it raifort) was a nice balance.
- Peanut: looked and tasted like one, but had a completely different texture–in a great way.
- Kumquat jelly shot: with Mezcal and orange, but too sour and not my favourite.
- Parmesan cookie: with cheese and corn. Hard to go wrong with this combo.
- Potato: fried potato, inflated, unique, and fascinating!
At this point we were taken upstairs for dinner.
We were lucky to have booked the first seating as we were surprised with every dish, while others who arrived later could see what was about to come when other tables got served. The timing was impeccable and, as we got upstairs, the first course at our table. The bubbly sadly lagged behind, but the dish was cold so we could wait.
Pizza: pasta dough with parmesan, basil jelly and olive oil caviar served with a side of the most gorgeous stracciatella di bufala (similar to burrata).
Mediterranean tuna sashimi with caviar: the stunningly thin slice of fatty tuna was painted with almond oil and topped with caviar from the Caspian sea. We used our tweezers to roll the fish and make a little roll filled with the caviar. Simple and perfect.
Tuna tartare: every plate, bowl and serving piece has been designed specifically for the particular course at 50 Days of Adria (many engraved with the event’s name). This tartare had tiger’s milk and dashi shoyu jelly and was served with nori crackers on the side. Dishes like this one are a problem because, from now on, every tuna tartare will pale in comparison…
Cured “rubia gallega” with toasted bread and tea butter: type of cattle from Galicia (I have fallen in love with Galician beef recently at Kitty Fishers. 50 Days bring theirs to Belgium where they marinate it for three days and then cure and dry it for four weeks. I thought the flavour was incredible, but slightly too fatty. My dining companions devoured it. The tea butter was very interesting and I loved its smoky character; the cracker was OK, just a vessel for the butter and the meat.
Canelon ( aka Spanish cannelloni) avocado and king crab: this was the one dish I didn’t care for. It wasn’t unique or special and I thought the mayo and sour cream took away from the crab, making it all too wet and slightly messy (eating with the metal tweezers proved slightly challenging).
Smoked salmon: with malt bread (which our waiter Eric pronounced mould and we had a laugh), cream cheese, pickled beetroots and the piece de resistance, the vinegar powder on top that made the dish unique and special. Some of us (who shall remain nameless) couldn’t help ourselves and kept swiping our fingers through the powder to get any remaining signs from the plate (yours truly included).
Galway oyster: gorgeous, plump and delicious oyster with a kimchi “sauce” on top and served with a pickled cucumber rolled in white sesame seeds. We were instructed to use as a cucumber chaser to kill some of the heat. Yum!
Oxtail meat pie: it was remarkable how many dishes were inspired by British cuisine. I had heard that Albert had studied local ingredients and would use them in his cuisine instead of just packing all his tricks and ingredients from Spain and cooking the exact same dishes he serves in Barcelona (some chefs have done so while having stints abroad, while others, like René Redzepi from Noma who has studied local culture and incorporated into his menus previously in Japan and now again in Australia). Albert’s version of a meat pie had shredded oxtail inside a light pastry, almost doughnut like, and topped with white bean mayo (very British as mayo seems to be a very prevalent ingredient in every sandwich here). Tasty, warm, and pure comfort food.
King oyster “spaghetti” with sour cream and black truffle: served in a clay pot. When they opened the pot, the truffle scent was inebriating and we inhaled it voraciously… Our waiter Eric explained to us after we devoured it that the actual spaghetti was made purely of shredded oyster mushrooms and then topped with the sour cream and black truffle sauce and shavings. Are oyster mushrooms the new “must spiralizer” ingredient? I hope so!
Tenderloin with confit potatoes: not the most farm-to-table, I have to say, as the tenderloin came from Chile and the mushrooms. And hard to get cattle raised on the streets of London. The beef was cooked to perfection and could have been cut with a spoon (so tender). Served with confit potatoes, cress salad and some pickles that were big in the 70s… And there were two Australians and one Brazilian at the table, so three out of four total beef snobs–we all loved it.
And then desserts…
Wild berries royal: raspberries in berry gelatine, topped with basil sorbet and sprinkled with pepper (we think pink…). It was a fascinating transition of savoury to sweet, as some bites tasted slightly sweet while others when you tasted the pepper were purely savoury. Way more interesting than a sorbet…
Chocolate air waffle with ganache: this dish showed a lot of promise as our waiter poured sticky toffee date sauce on the waffle. But the actual waffle was a bit dry and the star was the ganache that we were supposed to spread on the waffle, but I ended up eating on its own, and once again wiping every last morsel from the serving dish. It was rich, chocolaty, indulgent and something I would love having again.
Cheesecake: our waiter had told us this was his favourite dish and that the pastry chef hates him for going into the kitchen daily to beg for one. We agree! We actually want to commercialize this product and bring happiness to people. The French Coulommiers cheese made of unpasteurised cow’s milk (poor pregnant woman in the table next to us couldn’t eat this) was sprinkled with white chocolate and hazelnut dust. Hard to explain how magical this was, but the bite of the cheese with the subtle sweetness of white chocolate and the hazelnut created the best cheesecake we all have ever had. The little butter biscuits served with it were a good vehicle to consume the cheesecake, but borderline unnecessary. When I dine with the husband we usually share a dish (they brought one disk for two of us), we’ll usually be nice and polite and insist the other person should have the last bite. In this case, I stole the last bite and when he looked down he almost cried as he was saving the perfect bite for the end – sorry, it was just that good.
We had dessert with a fabulous dessert wine, INO, and then went back to the downstairs bar for coffee and petit fours. On the way there was some Asian pear with something dried on ice— but I have no idea what…
At this point we had been there for over 5 hours of eating and drinking, so I won’t describe every petit four. We got Kiki rocher (truffle with some corn, odd yum) when we entered the bar and while we started drinking our coffees we got a ton more.
First a mango prepared in the same style as the olive, green tea and mandarin biscuit, ginger candy coated gummy man (just three people in the world have the recipe, and, in my opinion, that’s enough as it didn’t impress me), black sesame rock, jam roll, and a very airy marshmallow-textured “after eight” mint.
To end the meal, we were handed chocolate cigars with vanilla cream inside!
In sum: Bravo! This was just the third day of the pop-up’s 50-day run and, apart from our inability to understand some accents and a few rare moments of absent or slower service (restaurant service was a 10 and it wasn’t as good at the bar), it was a perfectly-timed, gorgeous meal. We LOVED the bar downstairs and the room upstairs, though not as impressive, was still lovely and calmer (wish the blog template allowed me half points on the rating as I would have given service and setting would have gotten 8.5…so I am giving service a 9 and setting an 8 to balance it correctly…).
In terms of the food, when we weren’t blown away by just one out of the 25 or so dishes–I rate it a 10! And I am glad it wasn’t overly molecular and a lot of the courses I would love to eat again and again!
We paid £150 in advance upon booking dinner and were charged service and drinks on the day. Their wine list is definitely pricey (beware an odd discrepancy where some white wines are cheaper by the glass than the bottle), but the whole experience was absolutely worth it.
Hotel Cafe Royal http://www.hotelcaferoyal.com/